September 2008

The solar wind is a gas plasma blown off the surface of our sun at a million miles per hour. It is the outer atmosphere of the sun expanding out into space in all directions all the time. It effectively forms a shield around our solar system like a bubble that is called the heliosphere that tends to reflect harmful cosmic rays originating from other star systems, basically pushing away the rest of the galaxy from our solar system. This outward flow of particles is constant and creates outbound pressure referred to as a wind, a solar wind.

Sometimes it is stronger than at other times. Apparently, it is also sometimes weaker, as new data suggest.


An image of the sun taken Sept 25 using the SOHO observatory’s Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope at 304 Angstrom. SOHO, NASA/ESA

This is perplexing. The strength of the wind forms a pressure barrier that repels the intergalactic cosmic radiation, which is quite harmful to life, especially life floating around in space, space stations and spacecraft. Earth is protected by its magnetosphere and by its atmosphere for two additional tiers of protection. Spacecraft orbiting the Earth would also be protected by its magnetosphere. Spacecraft en route to the moon would have minimal protection.

The spacecraft Ulysses launched in October 1990, is a mission out of the plane of the planets orbiting the polar regions of the sun. Ulysses has detected a gradual decrease in the solar wind over the last 15 years equal to nearly 25%.

A segment today on Science Friday, talks to David McComas, Principal Investigator for Solar Wind Observations over the Poles of the Sun (SWOOPS) Experiment, about the solar wind and the findings by the spacecraft Ulysses. The archived podcast should be available later today here.

The Ulyssess/SWOOPS web site is here: .

Al? Found your telescope; it’s back here in the storage shed.

The telescope goes on display this week after being forgotten for decades. Restorers spent three years and $10,000 spent refurbishing it.

An old reflecting telescope that still works well enough to see five of Jupiter’s moons and surface stripes, it was found in a Jerusalem storage shed.

Einstein received the telescope in 1954, the year before he died as a gift from a friend named Zvi Gizeri, who apparently made it himself. It will be on display beginning Thursday at Hebrew University. Einstein willed his records to the school he helped co-found.

The long black tube about eight inches in diameter and 6 feet long stands on a base experts say may have been taken from the German army. It was this unique base, recognizable in a picture of Einstein with the telescope, and a signature from Gizeri on one of its mirrors, that confirmed its authenticity in 2004, when a biologist named Eshel Ophir made the connection.

The telescope was discovered in a storage shed in the late 1990s by a computer specialist at Hebrew University, however, he did not recognize it as Einstein’s, and left it in the shed.

Ophir made the connection accidentally, mistaking another forgotten telescope for the famous physicist’s. After searching through the archives and photos, Ophir realized the real Einstein telescope was actually the one his colleague had found unceremoniously years earlier. Ophir said he immediately took the telescope to the university’s Meyerhoff Youth Center to protect and clean it.

With the exception of a new eyepiece, the rest of the device, from lenses to optics, is original. Eisnstein likely used the telescope for recreation and not for professional purposes.

Science Friday has an excellent update on the Mars science program and planned projects for Mars. They also discuss possible missions in the next 5 to 10 years. The podcast should be available later today here:

Here’s the description of the segment from their web site:

In this segment, we’ll get the big picture on science on the planet Mars. From orbiting observatories to roving rovers to the ditch-digging Phoenix — what have planetary scientists learned about Mars, and what remains to be discovered?

The most recent visitor to the Red Planet is NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, which launched in August 2007 as the first mission in NASA’s Scout Program. Phoenix is designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic’s ice-rich soil. So far, the lander has identified water ice in soil samples, and has detected the chemical perchlorate in the soil, a sign of the presence of liquid water in the past.

The Phoenix Mars Lander joins the twin rovers of the Mars Exploration Rover project, Spirit and Opportunity, which have been in operation since 2004. Now running years past their planned lifetime on Mars, the rovers are still exploring the surface. Rover Opportunity recently exited the Victoria Crater after several months on the crater floor.

Several orbiting observatories, including Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are examining the different aspects of the planet from above. The orbiting platforms have studied the planet’s atmosphere, mapped its surface, and are also supporting the ground-based exploration missions.

We’re broadcasting this week from Tucson, Arizona, home base for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander, as guests of Arizona Public Media.”


Image: NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity climbed out of “Victoria Crater” following the tracks it had made when it descended into the half-mile-diameter bowl nearly a year earlier.

I’ve started taking guitar lessons, consequently, some of my free time has been consumed by practicing rather than posting to my blog. This comes thirty-five years after I bought an inexpensive guitar in school and tried to learn it on my own. I was unsuccessful.

I plan to blog more as fall approaches, perhaps even about learning to play the guitar. Below is the Fender acoustic I purchased. I never knew Fender made acoustic guitars.


I can read music. From the 5th grade on, I played the cornet in school band. So I was able to skip the first three lessons where one learns the notes and the scale and proceed directly to learning the strings, fret board and notes on the guitar.

It’s actually turning out to be a lot of fun, and I would encourage anyone who has had the yearning to learn the guitar to take it up.

I am finding my coordination in fingering the chords and strumming the strings has improved greatly since I was a geeky kid listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” “Vincent”, and any other song with heavy acoustical overtones.

Sykes Songwriter Fest

Which brings me to the event I attended two weeks ago in Memphis; the Keith Sykes’ Songwriter Celebration held at the Delta Fair. The event was free except for the entrance to the fair ($8) and parking ($5). Still, one would pay that whether or not one saw the songwriters sing their songs.

I attended with a friend and we were fortunate to see Roger Cook, Todd Snider and Rodney Crowell. While all three were exceptional, Todd Snider really stood out in my mind. I bought his recent CD at Barnes and Noble and have ordered two others. To hear an interview with Todd, go to

I’ve discovered other musicians as a result of my trip to Memphis, primarily by being introduced to them by my friend, including Paul Thorn and Peter Bradley Adams Paul Thorn doesn’t sell a whole lot of CD’s according to Barnes & Noble, but his music is very good and worth a serious look-see. Peter Bradley Adams is somewhat mellow, and is classified apparently and surprisingly as alternative.

Anyway, that’s my two cents for today. Talk to you later!

Google has a introduced a new web browser named Chrome, which is currently a beta product, on Tuesday, September 2. It is an open source browser. Google developed the browser in response to many applications being ported to the web. These app’s need a browser to run in and Google wants to supply that browser.

Operating systems such as Windows are not as important as they once were, with many systems operating all the key functions and features users desire.

Google believes the browser should be less intrusive on the user experience, use less processor power and system resources to run the app’s consumers need while at the same time offering up a bullet proof architecture that should reduce browser crashes. If anyone uses IE 7, you are well aware of browser crashes. Many people using Internet Explorer have stayed with IE 6.

The architecture segregates each open browser into a separate partition in memory, which also has the side benefit of enhancing security through separating the activity of a malicious web site and restricting it from reaching outside the partition to harm any other processes taking place on the computer.

Google relied on open source development already pioneered by Mozilla. Also, the engine behind Apple’s Safari browser was relied on in developing Chrome.

Reportedly, it is very fast, exceeding Firefox in many instances. Simple in design, able to create application shortcuts on your desktop, and a tab system that is located at the top of the browser. A task manager lets you monitor which web pages or add-ons are consuming the most processor resources. The tabs can be dragged around to a separate area of the desktop. The search and address line have been combined into one.

Chrome doesn’t support the extensions in Firefox and there is no print preview feature. Still, it is an interesting development in the browser wars and may prod Microsoft into improving their browser with the release of IE 8, rather than just issuing a stock release that doesn’t have much feature enrichment.

I still like Firefox but will use Chrome occasionally to put it through its paces. I’m a geek, and will be looking to monitor its development down the road.

The upload link for Chrome is:

Forgetting for a moment the extreme cold and harsh environment on Mars, the pictures that the Phoenix lander is transmitting back to Earth are marvelous in their ordinariness. The pictures could be soil at many if not most any place on Earth. They’re awesome due to their clarity and resolution, making one feel like they could walk out their back door and pick up a handful of Martian dirt. No big whoop at all.

Analysis has started on a sample of soil delivered to NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander’s wet chemistry experiment from the deepest trench dug thus far. Additionally, Phoenix has also been observing movement of clouds overhead.


Its robotic arm recently sprinkled a small fraction of the estimated 50 cubic centimeters of soil that had been scooped up from the informally named “Stone Soup” trench on Saturday, the 95th day of the mission. The Stone Soup trench, in the left portion of the lander’s active workspace, is approximately 18 centimeters (7 inches) deep.

The surface of the arctic plain where Phoenix landed on May 25 bears a pattern of small polygon-shaped hummocks, similar to some permafrost terrain on Earth. This is why scientists thought this area ideal to point the lander to. They are particularly interested in the new sample because it is from a trench on the border between two of the polygons, where different material may collect than what has been analyzed from near the center of a polygon. From inside Phoenix’s scoop, the sample material from the bottom of the trench displayed clumping characteristics somewhat different from other cloddy soil samples that have been collected and examined. There are clumps and then there are clumps.

Some clues to the composition of the sample has been derived from images taken. While spectral observations have not produced any sign of water-ice, bigger clumps of soil have shown a texture consistent with elevated concentration of salts in the soil from deep in the trench. The lander’s wet chemistry laboratory can identify soluble salts in the soil.

The science team has also been studying a series of still pictures of the nearby Martian sky showing dramatic water ice clouds moving over the landing site during a 10-minute period on Sol 94 (Aug. 29).

“The images were taken as part of a campaign to see clouds and track wind. These are clearly ice clouds,” said Mark Lemmon, the lead scientist for the lander’s surface stereo imager, from Texas A&M University.

Image: NASA